Whatever happened to Joe Borowski? It’s one of the most common questions pro-lifers ask of the man who almost single-handedly took on the Canadian system in a monumental battle for the unborn.
From being on the leading edge of the pro-life battle for almost two decades, Borowski seems to many to have fallen off the face of the earth.
“I’m not dead,” he assures the Interim from his health food store in Winnipeg. “Right now we’re just treading water.”
Treading water for Joe means setting up a pro-life group in his church and picketing for an hour at the local hospital in parish every week. After his long affair with the Canadian courts, he says it’s the only thing he can do right now. He has returned to the grass roots of the pro-life movement and now he seems to be biding his time.
“There’s a hundred ways of fighting a battle but what do you do when there’s no war being waged?” he asks. “We have to wait for the occasion when someone fires a shot and we can respond.”
As he sees it, the whole nature of the debate is different. Canada has abortion on demand, abortuaries conduct their business unchecked and no one in power seems willing or able to change this. “ The enemy now has changed,” he says. “People like (Henry) Morgentaler are not any more the target. He’s running a business, as terrible as it is, and it’s legal.”
For Borowski the battle began shortly after the abortion legislation was passed by Parliament in 1969. In those days there were plenty of targets for the provincial New Democratic member from Thompson, Manitoba. Outraged by his own government’s funding of abortions, he resigned from the cabinet of the Ed Shreyer government where he had served s an MLA since 1969. So began his ling and costly confrontation with the Canadian justice system.
Four times he served time in jail for refusing to pay income taxes to protest public abortion funding. His actual challenge to the abortion law began in 1978. His fight continued until 1989 when his final appeal was declared “moot” by the Supreme Court of Canada after it struck down the abortion law the year before.
In the meantime he had achieved Canada-wide fame through an 80-day hunger strike and a national fundraising campaign which brought in so much money that he had to plead with people to stop.
He had become a national hero to millions of Canadians who felt marginalized by the onslaught of anti-life legislation. The same kind of populist anti-establishment sentiments which got him elected in the Prairies struck a chord throughout the Canadian pro-life movement.
His latest political foray was during the constitutional debate when he served as local chairman of his constituency’s “Yes” campaign. Unlike some in the pro-life movement, Borowski believed voting “Yes” to the constitutional package would have no effect on the status of the unborn in Canada.
“This was strictly a Canadian issue,” he says. “I’m glad I did get involved. There are more things n life than just pro life. I felt on this issue everybody should stand up and be counted.”
The referendum gave him an opportunity to mingle with the political establishment again. He appeared with the likes of Premier Garry Filmore and Constitutional Affairs Minister Joe Clark as well as numerous MP’s who were mobilizing the “Yes” side. In the end, he says their efforts fell short because of the public’s mistrust of the Prime Minister.
Borowski argues it’s this same mistrust of politicians in general which stops many pro-lifers from involving themselves in politics.
“We’ve seen too many so-called pro-lifers when they get into Ottawa singing the same tune as the rest of them,” he says. “Too many times people have been betrayed.”
Although Borowski applauds the efforts of groups such as Liberals for Life who are trying to use mainline parties to elect pro-life MP’s he says many Canadians in the movement distrust the established political parties.
He has always been a proponent of a new political party for the pro-life movement but this, he adds, would demand resources. The New Democratic Party, which he served until his public disagreement over abortion funding, has relied on “a couple of millionaires and the union movement. Ross Perot proved what money can do, “ he adds.
He says the Christian Heritage Party has the same kind of money problem but adds they are the one legitimately pro-life party. “You don’t have to agree with all their policies,” he says.
In spite of his brief return to the political spotlight during the national referendum on the constitution, he has no immediate plans to re-enter the political fray. But it’s not something he has definitely ruled out.
“I found out in political life you never say never,” he says. “I always felt in a democracy political action is the way to go.”